Residents in Whitesboro, N.Y., voted overwhelmingly to keep the town emblem, which appears to depict a white man choking a Native American man.
According to the New York Times, some residents have balked at the image for over four decades, but very little has been done—and that tradition continued after a viral push to remove the image led to an actual vote Monday.
Residents of the Oneida County town, which has roughly 3,700 residents, voted overwhelmingly to keep things as they are, with 157 of 212 votes cast in favor of letting the image continue to represent the community.
“Whitesboro views this seal as a moment in time when good relations were fostered,” Dana Nimey-Olney, the village clerk, told the Associated Press.
The story behind the seal might be more devastating than the image.
According to the town’s website, in 1784 Hugh White moved to Sedaquate, now Whitesboro, and was the first white inhabitant of the area, which was the Oneida Indians’ home. One day an Oneida chief visited White and challenged him to a wrestling match.
“White dared not risk being browbeaten by an Indian nor did he want to be called a coward,” according to the story posted to the site. “In early manhood, he had been a wrestler, but of late felt he was out of practice.”
The image is supposedly the moment that White defeated the Oneida chief in a “friendly” wrestling match.
“Portrayals such as this cause psychological harm to Native American youth,” said Native American advocate and educator Molly Sunshine in an open letter to the town. “I do acknowledge the cultural practice among the Oneida who did traditionally engage in friendly wrestling matches. I get it. There is a historical context. But that’s beside the point. There is also a history of slavery in America, but glorifying that on a town seal would never be deemed appropriate, no matter how historically accurate.
“I know, I know. White is the last name of [the] founder,” she added. “But the combination of all of the different elements on the seal, together, evoke a soup of emotions among outsiders looking in, conjuring up discomfort, defensiveness, and even pain. Images matter, and your image is harmful.”